Even at the time, many of President Bush’s supporters knew what they were witnessing was the effective end of his ability to control events. Hurricane Katrina was the turning point of the George W. Bush administration. The last moment when the Real Clear Politics average of polls measuring Bush’s job approval was a net positive was in early May of 2005. But the impact of Hurricane Katrina a few months later was the point at which the accumulated discontent about the bloody and inconclusive war in Iraq metastasized into a general impression of dysfunction and failure. Though the widely held belief that Bush was to blame for the suffering of the people of New Orleans and the Gulf coast was based more on the reporting of a biased media and partisan exploitation of the problem than reality, it didn’t matter. Bush would achieve a remarkable turnaround in Iraq in 2007 that left his successor a war that was largely won (and situation that successor would largely squander), but his job approval never recovered. It would stay negative for the remainder of his term and even sink as low as 25 percent in his final months in office.
Barack Obama is not quite there yet, but the ObamaCare fiasco that the president is trying, probably in vain, to rescue with questionable fixes may turn out to be his hurricane. The current RCP job approval average is only 41.5 percent, an all-time low for this president. The RCPC average for those disapproving of his performance is 54.2 percent, another all-time Obama high. Two recent polls, Quinnipiac and Pew Research, show him at only 39 percent approval. If you compare Obama’s numbers today with his predecessor’s at the comparable point in his presidency months after Katrina, you discover the startling result that he is now viewed as negatively as the much-abused Bush was. That point hasn’t escaped the notice of some of the president’s most ardent supporters in the mainstream press. When the New York Times is ready to speculate about the parallels to Bush on its front page, a watershed moment has arrived. Obama was reelected with the help of an adoring press (a luxury Bush didn’t enjoy when he won his second term) but a spring and summer of scandals and legislative failures has now been followed by a famous broken promise that he may never live down.
As the Times rightly notes:
For the first time in Mr. Obama’s presidency, surveys suggest that his reserve of good will among the public is running dry. Two polls in recent weeks have reported that a majority of Americans no longer trust the president or believe that he is being honest with them.
It’s not just that the president’s rambling if contrite press conference yesterday and the confusing fix to his signature health-care plan is unlikely to change public opinion about ObamaCare or do anything but turn an already bad situation into an even bigger mess. It’s that we’ve arrived at the point when the Obama magic has disappeared. Much of the good will that the president could bank as a result of his historic status as our first African-American president and the hopes he engendered for genuine change has evaporated. He is now just a standard-issue lame duck with a credibility gap that can easily match those of any of his predecessors.
This is hard for the president and his inner circle to accept because they live in a liberal echo chamber where his opponents are dismissed as fools, extremists, and scoundrels. Many still hold onto hope that once ObamaCare is implemented it will become popular. But the rollout has revealed to the nation that the ranks of ObamaCare losers are largely made up of the middle class he pledged to protect. The pain that is just starting to be felt by ordinary Americans from this plan has soured the public’s view of a president that has previously had a Teflon image impervious to Republican attacks.
President Obama has often defied the rules of political gravity, but this may be the point where the rules of physics kick in. No second-term incumbent has ever recovered his popularity once he sunk to the levels that Obama has now reached. Moreover, contrary to Democratic hopes, the health-care boondoggle promises only to get worse in the coming year as the government’s intervention into one-sixth of the nation’s economy increases the pain felt by millions. The measure by which he had hoped to be remembered in history may yet serve to do so, but not for good. Much to his surprise, the Affordable Care Act is his hurricane and it is sinking his second term. Like Bush and others who crashed and burned once they had been reelected, Obama has lost the confidence of the American people. His presidency isn’t over and he has three years to either do further damage—as he appears intent on doing with his rush to appease Iran—but the era in which he could count on his unique status to protect him against failure and scandals has come to an end.